Death in A Foreign Country
We're lucky enough to be good friends with two of the three women who did the research for a new brochure about preparing for your death in a foreign country. Lorna Gail Dallin was the manager of the Merida English Library when we first moved here, and our neighbor at the time. Martha Lindley has only lived here for a little over a year, but she was our neighbor when we were renting, waiting for our house to be finished. We don't know Cheryl Caddy, but from the story she told about why she got involved in this project, it seems we also have some things in common. While death isn't a popular topic of discussion, it is an important one (especially for those of us far from loved ones), and these three women have brought their thoroughness, practicality, organization, and sense of humor to bear on this subject, for the benefit of all of us.
The Final Adios is the name of this small pamphlet (or a PDF file downloadable here) that outlines what preparations you can make to prepare your survivors for dealing with the monton (huge pile) of paperwork that will be required in the event of your death in what is to you a foreign land. The group presented the pamphlet and the information in it to the Merida Men's Club, the Merida English Library and to the International Women's Club in Merida, where we joined them for their final presentation.
Cheryl stood up first to explain why they had researched this subject in the first place. She and her husband live here in Merida, but their daughter and heir lives in the United States. As she put it, one day Cheryl had a disturbing vision of her tear-stained daughter's face as she arrived in Merida after she and her husband had both died unexpectedly. In her waking dream, her daughter had come to take care of matters. Cheryl's daughter doesn't speak Spanish, she doesn't know how to get to their house, she didn't have the keys if she did know and she didn't know in which bank they kept their money. Suddenly, Cheryl realized that if she loved her daughter, she must do something to make her daughter's work in the midst of her grief just a little bit easier. Listening to her that morning, we identified with this vision, as our own daughter had called us just a few months ago, worried about the same possibility.
To understand what needed to be prepared, Cheryl joined with Lorna Gail and Martha to investigate. Early on, they agreed that once they had the information, they would share it with the local expat community in Merida. The three of them spent countless hours talking with government officials (Mexican, American and Canadian), visiting funeral parlors and talking with others who had gone through the experience. They distilled what they learned into The Final Adios, a short document about dying in the Yucatan that tells you everything you need to know to prepare for your death.
Martha and Lorna Gail presented the document, mentioning a few important points, such as the need for an apostille (a special seal) on official documents for Americans, and the importance of having all documents translated into Spanish by an official translator (all this is covered in the document). They also reminded us of some things we might overlook, like preparing our survivors for the shock of dealing with a different culture. Martha suggested we tell our loved ones that the workers in the funeral parlor will probably be dressed in t-shirts, not tuxedos, and that is not a sign of disrespect nor an indication of their abilities. Instead it is an indication of how much a part of daily life they consider death to be here in Mexico.
For those of us who live here, but whose families live "there", what they have prepared is a valuable roadmap for a project we should probably all undertake. It is also a good synopsis to have on hand for your successors. It includes instructions on who to call depending on where the person in question died, what to expect from a funeral parlor, who in Merida are the official document translators, what documents need to be collected and translated and more.
If you live here, no matter how old you are, we encourage you to read it and then do the work. As Lorna Gail reminded everyone, if you don't do it, everything will happen anyway. With all the paperwork in order, your survivors might be able to dispose of your body within 24 hours. Without the right paperwork, it can take up to a week or more. It might take years for judges to decide what to do with your Mexican property if you don't leave instructions, but with the right paperwork, it will happen a lot faster.
If you do your homework now, however, you are leaving a final gift for your survivors, making their days after your death that much easier. As the title suggests, whatever preparation you have done beforehand is, from you to them, the final Adios.
Editors Note: The Final Adios brochure will be available at the Merida English Library while they last. Now and ever after, it will also be available as a downloadable and printable PDF right here on Yucatan Living. We encourage anyone who has useful information on this subject to leave their comments to this article for the edification of the whole community.